Autism Spectrum Disorder
• Carnosine, Food Allergen Avoidance, Massage Therapy, Melatonin, Multivitamin/Multimineral Supplements, Vitamin B 6 (alone or combined with Magnesium ) , Vitamin C
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD, previously called "autism") is a poorly understood family of related conditions. People with ASD generally lack normal social interaction skills and engage in a variety of unusual and often characteristic behaviors, such as repetitive movements. There is no specific medical treatment for ASD and its cause remains unclear. Anecdotal evidence of remarkable cures with the use of the substance secretin had raised hopes, but these hopes faded when numerous formal research trials found secretin ineffective. 1–8
Despite public concerns that the measles, mumps, and rubella [MMR] vaccine may cause autism spectrum disorder, the balance of the evidence strongly suggests that this is not true. 14,15
Proposed Natural Treatments
Some physicians involved with natural medicine believe that autism spectrum disorder as well as many other illnesses are caused by genetic defects in the body that interfere with the metabolism of certain nutrients. For example, there is some evidence that children with autism spectrum disorder may have trouble metabolizing vitamin B 6 . 18 Based on this theory, various supplements have been advocated for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder. However, despite a number of favorable anecdotal reports, as yet there is no reliable supporting evidence from meaningful studies. As the secretin example shows (see above), anecdotes can easily be misleading.
One 10-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study of 18 autistic children evaluated high doses of vitamin C for its effects on behavior. 9 Participants received 8 g of vitamin C for every 70 kg of body weight. In this rather complex study, all participants received vitamin C for 10 weeks. After that, half received vitamin C and the other half received placebo for 10 weeks. During the third and final 10-week period, the vitamin C and placebo groups were switched. The results indicated that use of vitamin C caused significant improvements in behavior when compared to use of placebo. This study was small and suffered from various design problems. Nonetheless, it does suggest that further research into using vitamin C for autism spectrum disorder might be advisable. Note: At this level of vitamin C intake, many people experience diarrhea.
Another double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study found indications that very high doses of vitamin B 6 may produce beneficial effects in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder. 10 Again, however, this study was small and poorly designed; furthermore, it used a dose of vitamin B 6 so high that it could cause toxicity.
It has been suggested that combining magnesium with vitamin B 6 could offer additional benefits, such as reducing side effects or allowing a reduced dose of the vitamin. However, the two reasonably well-designed studies using combined vitamin B 6 and magnesium have failed to find benefits. 11–13 Therefore, it isn’t possible at present to recommend vitamin B 6 with or without magnesium as a treatment for autism spectrum disorder.
Other Natural Approaches
An eight-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 31 children found preliminary evidence that the supplement carnosine at a dose of 400mg twice daily might be helpful for autism spectrum disorder. 16
In a systematic review of 5 randomized trials and 13 observational studies, researchers concluded that melatonin can help children and teens with autism spectrum disorder fall asleep and stay asleep longer.21
It has been suggested that food additives, food allergies , or other dietary factors may play a role in autism spectrum disorder, but meaningful supporting evidence for this theory has not been presented. One very small, but well-designed study failed to find benefit through eliminating gluten and casein from the diet. 19 The study followed a double-blind design; interestingly, parents generally thought they saw improvement, but perceived improvements were equally divided between the treatment group and the placebo group. And a 2008 review of all published randomized trials on the subject found no convincing evidence that the elimination of gluten and/or casein from the diet of autistic children lead to any significant improvement. 20
2. Unis AS, Munson JA, Rogers SJ, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of porcine versus synthetic secretin for reducing symptoms of autism. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2002;41:1315–1321.
4. Corbett B, Khan K, Czapansky-Beilman D, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study investigating the effect of porcine secretin in children with autism. Clin Pediatr. 2001;40:327–331.
12. Findling RL, Maxwell K, Scotese-Wojtila L, et al. High-dose pyridoxine and magnesium administration in children with autistic disorder: an absence of salutary effects in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Autism Dev Disord. 1997;27:467–478.
Last reviewed June 2011 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last updated Updated: 6/27/2011
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